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Tools for space made in space

Going to space is a big hassle, and taking a lot of things with you even more so. If something breaks, you need a replacement part and a tool to install it, and chances are that you’ll need the one tool you don’t have. To make life in space more easy, US company Made In Space uses 3D printing to create tools where they’re needed with a newly developed kind of plastic that can even be used outside the space station.

The company has been working on 3D printing in space for the past few years, to be used to manufacture niche tools and parts when they’re needed. This prevents astronauts from carrying extra things into orbit, and the people left behind on earth don’t need send some after them, which is expensive.

Until now, 3D printing was only possible inside the space station. The plastics commonly used in space, ABS and Green PE, can’t handle the stresses of vacuum of space. However, Made In Space has now successfully printed with a new kind of plastic, which can be used outside the station.

The new type of plastic is PEI/PC (polyetherimide/polycarbonate), which is several times stronger than the other plastics that are used at the International Space Station. In a vacuum, the material does not emit particles, and is resistant to UV light and atomic oxygen.

Made In Space envisions the new plastic to be used to 3D print small satellites on site, which can then be launched more cheaply than from the ground.

The company is building a new 3D printer called Archinaut, which will operate entirely in the vacuum of space. Launching in 2018, the 3D printer will construct entire satellites in space, using PEI/PC to make it happen.

Photos: Made In Space